Sifting throughthe dusty contents of the wild-card box every year, we search for the hiddengem, the team that might survive the wild-card round, win three playoff gamesand wind up with a Super Bowl ring. Last year we found one, the PittsburghSteelers. This year there are two possibilities. In a season in which most ofthe eight first-round participants are wringing their hands over the way theirregular seasons ended, the Philadelphia Eagles and the New York Jets have burstforth with confidence.
The Eagles'season had been troubled even with quarterback Donovan McNabb running things,but then it really tanked after he was lost in Game 10 with a knee injury. Thefans screamed for A.J. Feeley, their miracle worker who came off the bench andbailed them out after McNabb went down in 2002. Instead they got JeffGarcia.
Poor guy. Cut bythe San Francisco 49ers in 2004, his body practically shattered by two years ofhard labor in the lead mines of the NFL, Cleveland and Detroit, Garcia waspicked up this year by Philly because offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinwegremembered the good days they had shared in San Francisco. Then Andy Reid, as atestament to his ingenuity as a coach and to his humility, turned theplay-calling over to Mornhinweg. The result has been five straight wins.
Humblequarterback number 2, Chad Pennington of the Jets, had to survive a four-mancompetition to earn his position, this after two years of shoulder injuries hadmade him a very iffy proposition. He won the job, played an entire 16-gameseason for the first time in his seven-year career and quarterbacked New Yorkto the three straight victories it needed to enter the tournament. So a clubthat finished last in the AFC East last year and was picked to do the same thisyear is in the playoffs. It's a resilient team that gets through the games ithas to. Unspectacular, perhaps. But at this time last year, who was dazzled byPittsburgh?
Who will make it to Miami? Get round-by-round playoffpredictions from our NFL insiders
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Photograph by Al Tielemans
WINNING TOUCH Since stepping in for McNabb, Garcia (7) has been on the money, as he showed with a flip to running back Brian Westbrook (36) against the Falcons on Sunday.